Article by John Tapley; photos courtesy Bamboo Reef
Scuba divers the world over have high regard for Monterey Bay: its mixture of shore and boat diving and enchanting underwater landscapes offering an appeal for divers of all types. Sharing the joy of scuba diving in the pristine bay, and locations abroad, is Bamboo Reef: one of California’s most well-known, long-established dive centers, which includes two locations in San Francisco and Monterey. This is its story.
Bamboo Reef has been a beacon for scuba divers in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1961, its San Fran facility one of the oldest dive centers in the entire country. Originally owned by Al Ginnings, the store was sold to diving icon Sal Zammitti who springboarded the company starting in the early ’70s, including the Monterey store. Following Zammitti’s retirement, Bamboo Reef was purchased by seasoned scuba explorer Mark Stanley and his son Brian in July of 2016.
Mark shares he and Brian’s origins in Bamboo Reef:
“Brian and I are passionate about diving. After he graduated from high school he spent the summer in Maui working on boats, then came back to California and decided to make the diving industry his career. He put his resume out and Bamboo Reef gave him the position – in 2006.
“I got my credentials working in a store in the East Bay in Concord and I was getting close to retirement. We saw there was a need for a store and thought we would open a store together: to give Brian a foot up on his career and something fun for me to do. We approached Sal to see if he was interested in letting go of Bamboo Reef; we came to an agreement and now own both Bamboo Reef stores.”
At its core, Bamboo Reef is a full-service dive operation that provides retail sales, rentals, and service of major equipment brands; class instruction from entry level to professional development. Beyond these services, the Stanleys are also branching out into other pursuits such as freediving and spearfishing.
“Brian has gotten into freediving and we’ve added that service and capability to our product lines,” explains Mark. “He has an active and growing freediving community through Bamboo Reef, and it’s been an exciting area for new people to get into: the mental and physical challenge, hunting trips, and social activities. It’s been a good addition to Bamboo Reef.”
“Our freedive group is also doing trips,” he continues. “They just came back from a Big Sur camp out, and they’re off to Alaska in July… the water temperatures aren’t that much different than off Monterey.”
But it’s not just about dive gear, training, and service. Bamboo Reef has had a longstanding commitment to sharing the world’s best scuba diving destinations with its guests.
“Bamboo Reef has always sponsored local trips, regional trips, and international trips. We were in Curacao in December; Roatan in April; and the year before we did the Philippines. We have a trip coming up to Truuk Lagoon in October and Apo Reef, Philippines in January. We’ve made the decision to make at least one trip to the Philippines every year: it’s one of the prettiest areas in the world to dive, and from the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s easy to get to.”
“For adventure seekers who want to get up and close with some big animals, we also have a trip to Guadalupe to cage dive with great whites in fall of 2019,” he adds. “Further out, we have trips planned for Raja Ampat and Komodo starting in 2020 and 2021.”
Back home, Bamboo Reef unveils some of the best diving locales through monthly fun dives in Monterey: shore dives or chartered boat dives.
“It’s an opportunity for new divers who want to sample the different dive sites in Monterey and go with people who know those sites. We’ll do shore dives – all the entries, exits, and things to see – and have a barbeque to make it more fun. We’ll do some intermediate sites, like Monastery Beach, and bring the whole staff down to help people learn how to dive it: it’s a beautiful site, but sometimes you have to deal with more energetic waves.
“We’ll also go down to the Channel Islands off Santa Barbara: two trips a year. The first weekend of August we’ll do the southern islands; the last week of October we’ll go back down for lobster season – right around Halloween, we’ll have underwater pumpkin carving and a costume contest.”
Adding to dive opportunities in their own backyard, Bamboo Reef has helped improve the local environment.
“We have a fairly active conservation group; we support the Shark Stewards and the Monterey Sea Otter Group. We sponsor beach cleanups and are pushing hard to reducing everyone’s plastic footprint, and a reduction in sunscreens that are harmful to the coral. Our staff are passionate about this and are always trying to get conservation themes into our posts and activities.”
At the end of the day, it’s all about diving, and the myriad of opportunities it provides: fellowship, environmental stewardship, adventure, and good fun. Mark is excited to see Bamboo Reef continue to share these aspects into the future.
“Brian and I are passionate about diving and we want continue to support the Bay Area dive community,” he says. “If anyone wants to learn more about diving here, we welcome them to come. We love to show people what Monterey and the surrounding area has to offer.”
For more information on Bamboo Reef, including a list of upcoming local and exotic trips, visit www.bambooreef.com.